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9 Things They Won't Tell You Before Your First Psych Hospital Admission

Being admitted, voluntarily or involuntarily, to a psychiatric hospital can be traumatic. You’ve probably just been through some kind of mental health emergency. Depending on the circumstances, you may feel you’re being treated like a criminal. It’s especially scary the first time. Knowing a few tips can make your stay less stressful and more healing.

1. Make a note of your phone numbers.

Write down all of the phone numbers you might need on a piece of paper. They will take your phone, so you will need access to those numbers.

2. Buy an all-purpose calling card.

You can find them at Walmart or dollar stores. Make sure it’s not made to work with just one carrier. Some hospitals won’t allow you to make long-distance calls, and they’ll limit your local calls. Best to leave money and debit cards at home. You only need your calling card, driver’s license and insurance card.

3. When packing clothes, go for loose and comfortable.

No drawstrings or shoe strings. Pack a sweatshirt or hoodie (no drawstrings), even in summer. Don’t pack more than five days worth of clothes. You’ll have access to laundry facilities if you need them.

4. The hospital will provide soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant.

If you try to bring a bunch of your own toiletries, they won’t let you have a lot of them. If you run out of something, they’ll give you another.

5. Bring a couple of books.

Most units don’t have books. You won’t have access to the Internet. Bring a journal (no metal spiral) but not all units will allow pens or pencils. You’ll need to ask about that.

6. Expect to spend the first couple of days resting and getting stable.

You may have been through some trauma before ending up in the hospital. Try to relax and settle in. Try to eat at least a little every meal.

7. After you’ve had a chance to get to know the routine, open yourself up to the therapies that are provided.

Go to all the groups, even if you don’t think they’re for you. Talk to the other patients, at least the ones who are open and ready. Some people might be fearful or angry, especially when first admitted. Best to smile and give them space. But some will be near to where you are in your recovery. You can learn a lot from other patients. You can also have a lot of laughs. It’s therapeutic.

8. Refrain from asking your doctors and therapists when you will get out.

I know it’s hard to be away from your friends and family, especially when you don’t know how long you will be there. It’s been my experience, and I’ve seen it over and over again, that begging to get out will only delay your discharge. Work with your doctors, take your meds, participate in groups and recreation, don’t hide in your room, and you should be out in a matter of days. Of course, you need to be honest with your caregivers. If you don’t feel better, don’t say that you do.

9. There will be some indignities.

You may at times feel patronized. Being in a psych hospital is a lesson in patience. You will get out and you will get your dignity back. Try to be in the moment while you’re there. You should feel no more shame than you would if you were hospitalized for anything else.

Be honest and open with both your caregivers and the other patients. Before you know it, you’ll be discharged. Take it easy for a few weeks. Follow whatever treatment plan you were given at discharge. You may find being hospitalized was one of the best things that ever happened to you.

Getty Images photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz